HISTORY: Surrey’s century-old Fall Fair lives on in new celebrations

The public holiday once included an annual Surrey vs. Langley tug-of-war, ‘fattest baby’ contest, more

By Sue Bryant

Cloverdale Reporter

Today, September signifies the end of summer and the approach of autumn, children returning to school and families getting back to a normal routine. 

It wasn’t long ago that September represented more than that. In years past, September meant excitement; Cloverdale’s Fall Fair was around the corner.

The first Fall Fair was held at the Municipal Hall and fairgrounds in Surrey Centre on Friday, September 28, 1888, hosted by the District of Surrey Agricultural Association. Surrey had incorporated as a municipality less than a decade before and the Fall Fair provided a great opportunity for the community to get together and share their talents and have friendly contests with their neighbours in agricultural competitions, handicrafts and other homemade products.

At the time of the first fair, Surrey Centre was the “capital” of Surrey. It was truly the centre of Surrey in every respect; the Municipal Hall, the church and the school, as well as social halls, were all located in the district. The pioneers of that time could never have envisioned the changes that would take place in their little hamlet, which would become the thriving metropolis of more than 500,000 people we live in today.

The Fall Fair represented the best the community offered, and it was attended by one and all. The local schoolchildren would return to school a week before Labour Day, then prepare to compete against their fellow classmates in other wards. On the third Wednesday of September, the mayor proclaimed a public holiday so that all could attend and participate. Admission prices were $0.50 for adults and $0.25 for children.

The day would begin with a stock parade down McLellan Road, in which participants brought their best livestock up to the fairgrounds. The midway would be set up with games of chance such as the card game “Housie Housie” and “Coco-nut Shies.”

Entrants would compete to be recognized as the best in categories including livestock, poultry, garden and field produce, honey, canning, baking, fruit and flowers, dairy produce and needlework, to name a few. Even the local doctor, Dr. Fred D. Sinclair, was an avid competitor and won the award several years in a row for the best Johnson apples in the district.

The schoolchildren from the district’s one and two-room schoolhouses such as Surrey Centre, Strawberry Hill, Hall’s Prairie and Colebrook would vie for prizes in track and field, dog obedience, paper folding, drawing in pencil and in colour, writing and best scrapbook.

In 1934, the fair became large enough that a telephone would be installed on the fairgrounds for the exclusive use of Fair business, which was noteworthy enough to warrant an announcement in the Surrey Leader. The number for the fairgrounds was simply “Cloverdale 128.”

“There wasn’t even a ferris wheel,” Anna Bose Heppell recalled in an 1989 interview about the early days of the Fall Fair.

“They used to have little races for everybody; really had to run and somebody could outdo the other one, you know. But that was about as far as that went,” she said. “And they used to have baby shows, too and they’d give away mugs and everything for really for the fattest baby or the prettiest baby.”

By 1936, the Fall Fair boasted a record attendance of more than 3,000 people, including the large number of schoolchildren there to show off their best school project. Special events included Highland Dance competitions, horseshoe pitching, and the tug-of-war between Surrey and Langley. The tug-of-war was always one of the main attractions, given the friendly rivalry between the two towns.

In 1938, the Municipal Hall was moved from its Surrey Centre location near the cemetery to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Some residents can still recall looking out the window from their Surrey Centre school and watching the Municipal Hall being loaded onto trucks to be taken down to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.

The fair moved with the hall, and the annual Fall Fair continued on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. But times were changing. The community event was no longer a public holiday in Surrey, and, over time, the fair became larger and more commercialized, due in part to the city’s increasing population and the larger venue.

In 1996, the fall fair was incorporated into rodeo weekend, which takes place in May, ending the 109-year-old “fall” fair in some respects.

For some, however, the fall fair lives on in the annual Olde Harvest Fair held at the Historic Stewart Farm each September, which combines traditional fair activities with the new, all the while preserving the festival’s original intention: uniting Surrey residents to mark the autumn season with food, music and neighbourly competitions.

Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and volunteers at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives. She writes monthly for the Reporter.



editor@cloverdalereporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Cloverdalehistory

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Taken at the Surrey Fall Fair, September 1953. (Courtesy of the Surrey Archives / SM.261F)

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Blustery South Surrey walk to benefit homeless

Patricia Mulvaney is walking 10k to boost awareness of Surrey Urban Mission Society

‘Not the first time’ for driver clocked at excessive speed in South Surrey

Police say vehicle was doing 148 km/h in 80 km/h zone

Surrey School’s entrepreneurship program expands

‘YELL’ now offered at Queen Elizabeth, Semiahmoo

COVID-19: Update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

JULY 2: Here’s the update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond for Thursday, July 2

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

B.C. repairs COVID-19 emergency order for local government

Ombudsperson shut out as his recommendations implemented

More than 50,000 Coronavirus cases reported per day in US

Coronavirus cases are rising in 40 of 50 US states

Trump plans huge July 4 fireworks show despite DC’s concerns

Despite health concerns from D.C.’s mayor, no one apparently will be required to wear masks

Canadian engineer detained in Egypt released, needs treatment, family says

Yasser Albaz was detained at the Cairo airport after a business trip in February of 2019

RCMP arrest armed man on grounds near Trudeau residence

Officers descended on the sprawling estate Thursday morning.

Canada Day tractor incident kills three children, injures seven in Quebec

The tractor driver has been arrested following the accident

Undercover operation exposes prominent human trafficking problem in Greater Victoria

VicPD’s Operation No More took place in mid-June at a local hotel

Tsilhqot’in Nation demands meeting with feds on declining Fraser River chinook stocks

The Nation wants to partner with DFO to rebuild and recover the stocks

Most Read

l -->